Updated Sept. 24, 2003
Contributors: Gallagher Law Librarians Jonathan Franklin, Ann Hemmens, Peggy Roebuck Jarrett, Cheryl Rae Nyberg, and Mary Whisner.
- Research Strategy
- Library Departments and Branches
- Electronic Sources
- Research Guides and Bibliographies--International LawResearch Guides and Bibliographies--Foreign Law
- Library Catalogs
- Treaties and Other International Agreements
- Custom, Principles, Teachings
- International Cases
- United Nations
- Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs)
- European Union
- Foreign Law Research
- Federal Legislative Materials
Updated March 5, 2002; MW.
When you research international or foreign law, you will look for and use
different types of information: laws, cases, and regulations from national
bodies; practice guides or overviews of legal topics; scholarly discussions
of the law; news stories; policy studies.
You will find this information in different types of sources (or formats):
books, periodicals, microfiche and microfilm, locally mounted databases,
commercial online services, Internet sites.
And you will obtain those sources in different locations, using different
methods: at this library, at other libraries on campus, through interlibrary
loan, on library terminals, through your own computer, in the Computer Lab.
What this means is that you may need to be creative and flexible in your research
and to plan ahead in order to gather the materials you need. Be prepared for
the limitations of any library you use.
You can expect your county law library to have your state's statutes, but it
will not have statutes for all the countries of the world. Even very large law
libraries cannot have deep collections for all jurisdictions. For example, the
Gallagher Law Library has very strong collections for China, Japan, and Korea,
but has very little for most Latin American countries.
Use research guides to help you form a research strategy and find appropriate
Use secondary sources to get an overview of a topic and to find citations to
other sources. Consider when you can and cannot compromise -- e.g., do you
need the current text of a statute or would you be satisfied with a summary
that is a few years old?
Updated Aug. 28, 2003; MW.
- Foreign Law
- The domestic law of a country other than your own.
- Comparative Law
- Study comparing the laws of two or more countries or
two or more legal systems. This often includes the study of foreign law --
to find articles about foreign law, you may need to use the terms
"comparative law" or "comparative method" in some
- Public International Law
- Rules dealing with the relations between two or more states (i.e., countries).
Rules dealing with some relations between states and persons (e.g., human rights)
Rules dealing with international organizations.
International economic law is the branch that deals with economic exchanges between states � it may include monetary law, trade
law, customs law.
Sources of international law
(1) international conventions (treaties)
(2) international custom, as evidence of a general practice accepted as law
(3) the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations
(4) judicial decisions and teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various
nations. Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice.
- Private International Law (Conflict of Laws)
- Rules dealing with relations among individuals that have an international element, typically
rules concerning which country�s laws apply to a particular dispute.
- Soft Law
- �Guidelines, policy declarations, or codes of conduct
that set standards of conduct but are not directly enforceable.� Black�s
Law Dictionary (7th ed. 2000).
- Transnational Law
- Rules governing certain disputes that are accepted
regardless of national jurisdiction.
Some people promote this as a solution
to some problems of international commercial law: contracting parties from
different countries would both be bound by this transnational law, rather
than by the law of either party�s country.
Some writers refer to it as
"the international law of lex mercatoria."
Posted January 15, 2003; MW.
When you begin a project, ask yourself what you already know
about the topic.
Get an overview of the legal issues by reading a secondary
source, such as a law review article or textbook.
- Is there a convention that applies?
- Are there important cases?
- What is the factual background?
Write a list of questions you want to answer. These can
include factual questions as well as questions about the law. You should
revisit this list as you go along.
Write a list of search terms you think will be useful in
indexes and databases.
Florida Center for Instructional
Sources of International Law
Article 38 of the
Statute of the International Court of Justice
lists the following as the sources it will apply:
- international conventions (treaties),
- international custom, as evidence of a general practice accepted as law,
- the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations,
- judicial decisions and teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations.
Your product (brief, memorial, paper, or article) will apply these sources � but
your research path might not follow the list in order. In fact, it is
often most efficient
to begin your research with secondary sources
Gather and Read Secondary Sources
Search for legal books and law journal articles on your topic.
Read (selectively) and take notes.
- Is there a convention that applies? If so, get the text.
- Do the sources discuss activities that could constitute �international custom� or �general principles of law�?
- Do the sources cite case?
- international tribunals
- courts from various countries
- Do the authors offer interpretations that you agree or disagree with?
Should you address those positions in your paper?
- Can you use any of the sources as �teachings of the most highly qualified
publicists�? (A treatise by a famous professor would count; a law
review note by a second-year student would not.)
Gather and Read Conventions, Cases, and Other Sources
Your notes from secondary sources should provide you with many leads. Use the
citations you find. Then you can branch out -- for instance, by searching for
cases or statements by government officials.
Use Nonlegal Sources
- News sources can provide leads to very recent legal developments (e.g., a pending case, a treaty under negotiation).
- Nonlegal sources � news, scientific, technical, economic � help you develop the factual context for the legal issue.
- News sources and historical works can provide evidence of custom.
Update Your Research
- Has there been action on the treaty (adoption, reservations, abrogation)?
- Is there a new treaty on the topic?
- Are there new cases?
Library Departments and Branches
Library Departments and Branches
Updated May 16, 2007; AEH.
UW Gallagher Law Library
- URL: http://lib.law.washington.edu.
- the Law Library's
Internet based online catalog.
- Search for materials in the Law Library's collection. Also provides access to
electronic databases, legal periodical indexes (e.g., Index to
Foreign Legal Periodicals), other library catalogs, free Internet
legal resources, Law Library services (e.g., interlibrary loan request
form), and information on changing the catalog display to view
characters in other languages.
- Law Library materials are not included in the main
University of Washington Libraries catalog.
- For catalog searching tips see "Library Catalogs" section of this guide.
- Reference Office on floor L1, 543-6794, handles reference questions for United States law,
international law, and the law of foreign jurisdictions. The Reference
staff will assist with basic legal reference questions regarding China, Japan, and Korea,
but will refer patrons to the Library's
East Asian Law Department staff for in-depth questions concerning those
countries. Email reference service
for UW law students.
- East Asian Law Department handles Chinese,
Japanese, and Korean law reference questions. 543-7447; e-mail rrbritt@u.
- Specialized research guides are available.
- Circulation Department on L1, 543-4086, provides a variety of services with respect to
- If a book you need is checked out, you can request the book by talking to a
Circulation staff member or via the online
- If a book (or journal) you need is not available here in the Law Library or
in the UW Libraries, or in the academic libraries in Washington and Oregon
states (for more information, see the "Summit" section below), Circulation
staff may be able to borrow it for you from other libraries through
interlibrary loan. See the Interlibrary
Loan webpage for more information about this service.
- URL: http://www.lib.washington.edu/.
- UW Libraries online catalog
includes materials available in the many library departments located
throughout campus (e.g., Suzzallo Library, Engineering Library,
Fisheries-Oceanography Library, Foster Business Library, and East Asia
Library). It does not include the Law Library materials, which are
available through the Law Library's online catalog.
- Information about the libraries around campus is available via the
UW Libraries Research Databases website. Selected departments include:
- Government Publications, Suzzallo Library
ground floor; 543-1937.
Government Publications is a depository for U.S.
federal government publications and for Canadian, United Nations, and
European Union documents. The collection includes selected documents from a variety of
international organizations. Some microfiche documents are here (e.g. EC Official Journal).
Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) is a collection of translations of
newspaper articles and radio and television broadcasts from foreign
countries. The emphasis is on political, socioeconomic, scientific,
technical, and environmental information. The set has been superceded by
the online World News Connection (WNC), which is available
through the UW Libraries
- The UW Libraries online catalog
includes selected international titles, but many titles must be accessed
through internal records/files with staff assistance.
- Microform and Newspaper Collections, Suzzallo Library
ground floor; 543-4164. MicNews maintains a large current international newspaper collection, with an emphasis on Slavic, South
and Southeast Asian papers and a selection of European and American papers. Includes indexes and backruns for major newspapers.
- Suzzallo Library Reference, Suzzallo Library
first floor, 543-0242; email:
reference questions concerning: anthropology, cinema studies, classics,
communications, economics, education, English language and literature, ethnic
studies, geography, Germanics, history, linguistics, philosophy, political
science, psychology, religion, Romance languages and literatures, sociology and women's studies. Includes links to research databases
in the humanities and social sciences.
Summit is an online library catalog that combines
information from more than 30 academic libraries in Washington and Oregon into a
single unified database. UW students, faculty, and staff can search the online
catalog and borrow materials directly from these libraries for delivery to UW
Law Library. The UW Libraries and the UW Law Library catalogs are included in
Summit. Four other law school libraries are included in the Summit catalog.
More About Summit
Updated July 19, 2007; AEH.
Connecting to Online Resources
Many electronic databases and indexes are available to you. Some databases are
licensed by the University with a restriction that they are only for the UW
community. You have two options for accessing these databases:
- use a UW-connected computer, such as the public computers in the Law
- use your own computer and sign in with your UW NetID at the
Gallagher Law Library website or the
UW Libraries website. Look for
click, then sign in.
See the Gallagher guide on Connecting to Online Library Resources
for more information.
On the Gallagher Law Library homepage, use the
pull-down option under the Find Legal Databases heading. Select the database you
want to search and then click on Go. See the
Legal Databases & Indexes page for a complete list and descriptions.
University Libraries Research Databases
The UW Libraries
Research Databases page is an
excellent entry point for a variety of indexes and databases available to University
of Washington users. Browse by database name or use the
Resources by Subject
option, where you'll find topics such as African studies, East Asia, fisheries,
health sciences, human rights, international studies, Japanese studies,
political science and public affairs, religion, Southeast Asian studies, and
LexisNexis & Westlaw
students have LexisNexis IDs and Westlaw passwords for educational purposes. For
help, ask a reference librarian or a LexisNexis or Westlaw student
representative or call Customer Service (LexisNexis 1-800-543-6862; Westlaw
1-800-REF-ATTY, 1-800-733-2889). Each vendor has a law school portal:
For educational purposes, UW
students from departments and schools other than the School of Law have access
LexisNexis Academic through the UW Libraries
Research Databases page.
This version of LexisNexis does not offer the same coverage as the
version law students use. Material that is listed in this guide as available
on LexisNexis is available on the law school version but may not be available on
the general academic version.
A wide variety of material is available on
the Internet. Government agencies, IGOs, universities, businesses, and
individuals post documents and other information on their websites. The Internet has become particularly
valuable for international law researchers because some documents are now
available on the Web that are otherwise very difficult to obtain.
Gallagher's Internet Legal Resources page links to selected websites for comparative, foreign, and international law
research. Other sources include:
Inter-Governmental & Non-Governmental Organizations (from the UW Libraries
Government Publications Library)
links to free international and foreign law websites.
- The Legal List: Research on the Internet includes a chapter on international and foreign law web resources.
KF242.A1 H496 at Reference Office
- Ken Kozlowski, The Internet Guide for the Legal Researcher: The Complete
Resource Guide to Finding Legal Information on the Internet, includes a
chapter on international web resources. KF242.A1 M3 at Reference Office
Email Discussion Lists
Also called "listservs," email discussion lists enable people to communicate and share information quickly and
For information on the use of listservs and a selected list of international
law lists, see the ASIL Guide to Electronic Resources for International Law,
Lists, Newsgroups & Networks.